Television reality star Monica Beverly Hillz stopped by campus last week for UMKC’s premiere Trans Awareness Month event. Hillz, a Chicago based drag performer and transgender activist, was joined by fellow performer Janette Noriega and Kansas City’s own Tre’Shawn Seymour for a conversation on sisterhood, survival and resiliency among transgender women of color.
Hillz is best known for being the first openly transgender contestant on the popular reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. At the event, she shared her story of coming out in front of millions of people on TV.
“I’m glad that I did it,” she said. “But sometimes I wish my coming out could’ve been a bit more private. I wish I would’ve told my family first.”
Seymour also shared her experience of coming out, reminiscing about the time she showed up to her grandmother’s birthday party in a see-through dress and colorful jelly shoes.
“I had this big present blocking my face and outfit,” said Seymour, shaking her head and laughing. “When I set it down in front of my grandma, she screamed “Oh lord!’ She was so shocked. She fell out of the chair and sprained her wrist.”
The speakers offered their advice to young transgender people worried about coming out.
“You have to be comfortable with yourself,” said Noriega. “Self-love is the best love. If you don’t have that, nothing else in your life is going to fall into place.”
All three woman talked about the importance of solidarity, citing their own experiences with transphobia within the LGBTQIA community.
“Sometimes I feel like transgender women are pushed on the back burner,” said Seymour. “I think we can make males as well as females insecure or uncomfortable.”
“I separate my persona onstage from who I am offstage,” said Noriega. “Drag is about becoming something else, beyond just gender or sexuality. Being a transgender woman is who I am when the lights go off.”
Seymour and Hillz agreed.
“When you do shows, it’s a costume,” said Seymour. “But when the bar closes for the night, I’m still the same girl. That isn’t a costume. It’s just me.”
The conversation ended with an audience member asking each speaker how they define beauty.
“To be beautiful is to be happy,” said Hillz, echoing Noriega’s sentiment. “If you’re happy with yourself, it shows.”